How 9 governors are handling the next coronavirus wave

How 9 governors are handling the next coronavirus waveNovember 25, 2020

President Donald Trump hasn’t been leading on the coronavirus and governors are again in charge of the nation’s response. They’re reacting with a patchwork policy that’s unlikely to head off the long-warned “dark winter” in America.

Governors are balancing rising case numbers and pressure to keep schools, restaurants and bars at least partially open. They’re employing loosely defined “curfews” on all but essential workers, admonishments over holding Thanksgiving dinners and reductions in capacity limits on indoor spaces — and a growing number of Republicans are mandating masks.

What they’re not doing: Returning to the all-or-nothing approach of the pandemic’s earliest month, sparing a disease-weary public another round of lockdowns.

“Governors are being very, very careful. They’re being surgical in some of their requirements,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who has battled Republicans over his containment efforts, in an interview. “The big ones are making sure people wear masks and facial coverings. I think they’re doing a good job.”

Here’s a look at how nine governors — from across the country and from across the political spectrum — are responding to what experts fear may become the deadliest coronavirus surge yet in the U.S.

How bad is the pandemic?

How South Dakota is fighting the virus

She refused lockdowns in the spring, and allowed the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to proceed this summer — an event since linked to hundreds of cases across the region. As the virus surged in the state this fall, Noem didn’t implement restrictions and declined to urge state residents to even wear masks, let alone enact a mandate.

“I’ve consistently said that people that want to wear masks should wear masks and people who don’t shouldn’t be shamed because they choose not to,” Noem said at a press conference last week.

Her office defended her pandemic response in a statement.

“Look at Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois – states that have had mask mandates for months but are still seeing rapidly increasing cases,” wrote Ian Fury, a Noem spokesperson, in an email. “Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Noem has focused on solutions that do good, not solutions that feel good.”

— Rachel Roubein

How bad is the pandemic?

How Illinois is fighting the virus

So Pritzker divided the state into 11 regions and now gauges the need for mitigation based on each region’s hospital bed availability and positivity rates. Lawsuits have since ensued, but they’ve been shot down by the courts.

We’re a big state, so it made sense in some ways. You couldn’t do it in a state that’s half our size,” Pritzker said in an interview. “It really worked for a while. We’d put regions into mitigations and out of mitigations and then you didn’t have to force other regions into mitigation when they are doing well.”

In the second wave, bars and restaurants have closed for indoor dining, retail stores must adhere to new capacity limits — grocery stores at 50 percent and big-box stores at 25 percent. Museums, movie theaters and casinos are closed, too.

The mask mandate remains, and Pritzker says the state is one step away from an order to stay at home.

His biggest challenge?

“The politics of mask-wearing and the politics that Donald Trump brought to fighting a virus that doesn’t know politics,” Pritzker said. “The virus is killing Republicans just like Democrats. This virus is killing people who don’t wear masks more often than it’s killing people who wear masks, for sure. I’m trying to keep everyone, Republicans and Democrats, safe.”

— Shia Kapos

How bad is the pandemic?

How Massachusetts is fighting the virus

Massachusetts has had a mask requirement in place since the spring, but Baker issued a stricter order in November requiring residents wear face masks at all times in public.

“We are in the midst of a surge in cases,” Baker said during a recent press conference. “There is community transmission across the commonwealth. And we are standing up at least one field hospital to treat a crush of ill patients.”

Baker recently imposed a 9:30 p.m. curfew for indoor dining and social gatherings, and asked residents to be in their own homes by 10 p.m., though some state lawmakers and advocates are calling on Baker to halt indoor dining completely.

The biggest fight playing out in Massachusetts is how to handle schools as cases increase. The Baker administration has stressed the importance of keeping schools open in person, and points to data that shows the virus is not spreading rapidly at schools. The in-person school push has put Baker at odds with local officials and powerful teachers unions.

Reopening plans are up to local school committees in the state’s 351 cities and towns, and many have opened for remote-only learning or a hybrid model with limited in-person attendance.

— Stephanie Murray

How bad is the pandemic?

How Wisconsin is fighting the virus

The state Supreme Court sided with lawmakers who said they should have had a say in whether to extend Evers’ initial stay-at-home order. The decision resulted in the state opening up again, and coronavirus cases skyrocketing.

“It’s dire,” Evers said in the interview.

The governor has declared a public health emergency in the state, requiring face coverings in public. That too is being challenged by conservatives.

Local health departments, including those of big cities like Milwaukee and Madison, have reduced the capacities of restaurants and other businesses. And some school districts have closed in-person high school attendance. The state is also encouraging — not ordering — residents to stay home.

But Evers says he wants to do more.

“Republican opposition is no question the biggest challenge,” he said. “They’ve taken the Trump mantra to a whole new level. When you’re against mitigation and against any effort to prevent the virus from spreading and requiring that, that’s a problem. And we’ve been fighting that for months and that’s one of the reasons we are in the predicament we are.”

— Shia Kapos

How bad is the pandemic?

How Texas is fighting the virus

Now, despite the rapid rise in cases, Abbott has resisted calls to tighten capacity limits and shut down businesses, and he’s even tied the hands of local officials who are trying to curb the virus spread through renewed measures. The state sued El Paso County over an order closing businesses. An appeals court sided with Texas and overturned the order.

“It is important for everybody in the state to know that statewide we’re not gonna have another shutdown,” Abbott said during a news conference last week. “There’s an overestimation of exactly what a shutdown will achieve, and there’s a misunderstanding about what a shutdown will not achieve.”

Abbott has sent aid to El Paso including equipment, medical staff and National Guard troops. And the mask mandate remains in place for most of the state’s 254 counties.

— Renuka Rayasam

How bad is the pandemic?

How New York is fighting the virus

Cuomo is also utilizing a “micro-cluster” strategy, an approach where the state responds to outbreaks in specific neighborhoods. That has meant new restrictions — including some limits on in-person learning and high-risk, nonessential businesses — additional testing, contact tracing and compliance enforcement on communities and ZIP codes where Covid-19 is surging.

Gareth Rhodes, the deputy superintendent and special counsel at the state Department of Financial Services and a member of the governor’s Covid-19 task force, said the micro-cluster strategy has been effective in controlling the viral spread in hot spot areas and helped prevent another statewide shutdown.

“When there’s evidence that there is broad-based community spread happening and the trend is going in the wrong direction, that’s when we implement the cluster,” Rhodes said. “It serves as a wake-up call to communities that, unless additional actions are taken by the community, there will be further restrictions coming.”

The state has ramped up its testing and contact tracing efforts to better understand how and where Covid-19 is being transmitted. Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo, said “the big difference between March and April and now is we just know so much more” about how the virus spreads.

“It’s like the fog of war has lifted and you can now see the field,” he said.

Despite focusing on a micro-cluster approach, Cuomo has yet to take the possibility of another statewide shutdown off the table.

“Everything is based on the numbers,” Rhodes said. “We monitor the numbers every single day. there’s no one metric that’s determinative — we look at a series of metrics.”

— Shannon Young

How bad is the pandemic

How Florida is fighting the virus

DeSantis banned visitors to nursing homes and shut down bars, nightclubs and restaurant dining rooms early on. All nonessential businesses were ordered closed statewide by early April.

In May, DeSantis began allowing businesses to reopen, largely in sync with recommendations from the White House, and hasn’t looked back since. He’s even had second thoughts about his original lockdown order.

“Now we know those types of shutdowns didn’t really do anything,” DeSantis said in September. “Actually, it looks like they were more harm than good.”

DeSantis has lifted nearly all of the restrictions he had imposed, allowing all businesses to remain open and declining to issue a mandate to wear face masks. The state has blocked dozens of local governments that have issued mask requirements from collecting fines.

DeSantis has pushed aggressively to keep schools open, making it all but impossible for districts to decide on their own to shut down. And the governor is now focusing his efforts on the elderly and medically vulnerable, who are the most likely to die from Covid-19. In a roundtable discussion this fall with university health experts — an event that drew shoutouts of encouragement from Trump — DeSantis pointed to state testing data that showed that most young people recovered from the virus without medical attention.

Florida now is awaiting the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines, and DeSantis believes some of the state’s hospitals and long-term care facilities could start seeing doses in the next three to six weeks. He has shown no signs of moving back toward a lockdown.

— Arek Sarkissian

How bad is the pandemic?

How California is fighting the virus

The most recent spike prompted the state last week not only to dramatically pull back on reopenings, but to issue a statewide curfew beginning Saturday that requires residents to stay in their homes between 10 p.m. through 5 a.m. unless performing essential activities. The curfew will be in place through Dec. 21.

Newsom also pulled the “emergency brake,” placing the majority of the state — 94 percent of the state’s population — into the most restrictive level of the state’s four-tiered, color-coded reopening structure. That has meant the end of indoor dining for most of the state, along with prohibitions on indoor operations for gyms, museums and religious services.

The governor, who has had a rough week after news broke that he attended a maskless birthday gathering at a three-star Michelin restaurant in the Napa Valley and whose kids were exposed to the coronavirus, said the time to take action to curb the virus’ spread is now, and called on all Californians to comply with the state guidelines.

“This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” Newsom said of the state’s rapidly rising case count at a press conference last week.

Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

— Victoria Colliver

How bad is the pandemic?

How Utah is fighting the virus

The statewide mask mandate, which is expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future, came over a month after the Utah Medical Association implored him to adopt the requirement. The governor had first used a local approach to masks, letting jurisdictions set their own rules and then, in mid-October, rolled out a new mandated mask system depending on the level of infection in an area.

But in the past few weeks, “the strain on our hospitals has dramatically increased,” according to Anna Lehnardt, a spokesperson for Herbert.

“The governor’s decision to extend a mask mandate to the entire state was closely tied to his declaration of new state of emergency to address hospital overcrowding,” Lehnardt said in an email.

— Rachel Roubein

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